Vegas trip nearly proved fatal for ‘Vacation’ franchise

In an era of high-profile musical residencies and six-figure nightly payouts to the world’s top DJs, it’s easy to forget that Las Vegas once was the place where entertainment careers went to die.

It’s certainly where the beloved “Vacation” franchise coughed and wheezed before expiring in a puddle of its own sick.

Released in 1997, “€œVegas Vacation” was so awful, so devoid of anything resembling entertainment, it took 18 years for the next installment, simply titled “€œVacation,”€ to hit theaters.

One of the trailers for the sequel/reboot that finally opens July 29 shows an adult Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) reminiscing about the time he and his family drove across the country to visit the Walley World amusement park. “I’ve never even heard of the original vacation,” his oldest son shrugs. “Doesn’t matter,”€ Rusty responds. “The new vacation will stand on its own.”

Here’s the thing, though: It absolutely matters if younger viewers have never heard of the original “€œVacation.”€ Especially since, thanks to reruns on TBS, there’€™s a chance they’€™re only familiar with the dreadful “€œVegas Vacation.”

In 1983, frazzled food additives researcher Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) shoved his loving wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their teenage children, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron), into their Family Truckster and dragged them from Chicago to Los Angeles amid a string of setbacks, misadventures and disturbing behavior.

Not only was “National Lampoon’s Vacation” a surprise hit, it was decades ahead of its time as viewers found themselves rooting for a sociopath long before that became the norm thanks to everyone from Dexter Morgan to Dr. Gregory House to the leads of pretty much every series on FX.

Despite the animal abuse, corpse desecration, kidnapping and public indecency —€” although it’€™s still hard to think of anything involving Christie Brinkley as indecent —€” the original “€œVacation” became a comedy classic that cemented the reputation of second-time director Harold Ramis (“€œCaddyshack”) and launched the career of screenwriter John Hughes.

Hughes was back for 1985’€™s “National Lampoon’€™s European Vacation,” with Amy Heckerling (“€œFast Times at Ridgemont High”€) taking over directing duties. The result is little more than a rushed money grab offering few genuine laughs, but it still made an impression on viewers of a certain age.

Growing up, whenever we’d see an inappropriate display of public affection, one of my friends or I would inevitably quote Rusty’€™s emphatic, “Dad, I think he’s going to pork her!”€ In college, I spent five days in Paris looking for a shop that would embroider “Rusty”€ on a beret. And to this day, whenever I’€™m in a roundabout with another car, I can’€™t help but recite the Big Ben-Parliament scene, which is one of several reasons why I don’€™t live in Summerlin.

Even after that misguided effort, it took only four years for the Griswolds to return in 1989’s “€œNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Despite some cringe-worthy bits involving the Griswolds’€™ neighbors (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest), it’€™s become a holiday staple.

So how did everything go so very, very wrong with “Vegas Vacation”€? Not only was it the first in the franchise not written by John Hughes, National Lampoon wouldn’€™t even put its name on it.

Clark’s announcement that he’s taking the family to Las Vegas is met with zero enthusiasm. “Dad, Las Vegas? There’€™s nothing to do there,”€ Audrey complains. “€œClark, I don’€™t think that Las Vegas is the kind of place you take a family,”€ Ellen cautions. Maybe it’€™s just not the place you take this particular family.

From some forced slapstick involving Clark and Ellen’€™s attempt to join the mile-high club to way too much Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), “Vegas Vacation”€ is almost completely free of laughs, logic and recognizable human behavior.

The recurring bit involving Wallace Shawn as The Mirage’s sadistic, vindictive blackjack dealer, who rejoices as he takes Clark for more than $20,000, isn’€™t just annoying, it makes zero sense. When have you ever seen a dealer actively root for the house?

There’s a total of 100 seconds of enjoyment in “€œVegas Vacation,”€ during which Clark and Eddie visit a downtown casino that specializes in games of chance such as coin toss, rock paper scissors, pick a number between one and 10 and casino war, the last of which actually became a thing. But that’€™s it. Everything else is so bad, not even a literal last-gasp effort by the legendary Sid Caesar can save it.

If anything, “€œVegas Vacation”€ serves as a document of a bygone era in Strip entertainment, showcasing Wayne Newton in concert and, for no real reason, Siegfried & Roy’€™s distractingly large codpiece. (Their longtime manager, Bernie Yuman, also has a small role.)

What felt like a new life for the franchise was quickly rejected by critics. At a meager 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it earned barely a third of the positive reviews of the lowly “€œEuropean Vacation.”

“Vegas Vacation”€ was so toxic, the only place the Griswolds turned up during the ensuing 18 years was a series of Old Navy commercials.

All that will change Wednesday when Rusty drags his family, kicking and screaming, to Walley World, with a stop to see Clark and Ellen along the way.

Co-writers and directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (“€œThe Incredible Burt Wonderstone”€) have been wrestling “€œVacation”€ to the screen since early 2010. Hopefully, they made good use of all that time.

Because if this one’€™s anywhere near as unpleasant as “€œVegas Vacation,” we might not see the Griswolds again until Rusty’€™s great-great grandkids take up the cause.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at Follow him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch

Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas art exhibit
Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas gallery exhibit
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with blooming jasmine tea
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with jasmine tea
Benny the Ice Skating Dog
Benny is a Las Vegas Labrador who was rescued by former pro skater Cheryl Del Sanyo, and trained to ice skate. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Nevada State Museum
The Nevada State Museum of Las Vegas, located at the Springs Preserve, covers all eras of the state, from prehistoric to today.
Throw a better dinner party
Cash appears at Baseball Winter Meetings
Lights FC mascot Cash plays the electronic drums at the EZ Inflatables’ booth on Tuesday at the Baseball Winter Meetings trade show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
5 albums to soundtrack your holiday gatherings in style
1. Various Artists, “Holidays Rule," with Rufus Wainwright, The Shins, Calexico and more. 2. Various Artists, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year," with Lemmy Kilmister, Alice Cooper, Chuck Billy and others. 3. Various Artists, “Christmas on Death Row," featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg to name but a few. 4. Bright Eyes, “A Christmas Album.” 5. Various Artists, "The Motown Christmas Album." (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
WinterFest in Henderson.
Miss Rodeo America Fashion Show
The 28 women contestants of Miss Rodeo America compete in a fashion show at the Tropicana on Dec. 7, 2018.
Tournament Of Kings Holiday Show
Wizards and warriors are ready for the holidays at Excalibur's Tournament of Kings Holiday Dinner Show.
Take a dive with the Silverton mermaids
A visit to the Silverton Casino Hotel is not complete without taking in the popular, and very unique, mermaid show.
Cowboys and western aficionados can buy virtually anything at Cowboy Christmas
Vegas Golden Knights Christmas Display
In the Las Vegas Valley, the chances of getting a white Christmas are slim. But this year, you can have a “Knight” Christmas. A Henderson resident has a Christmas lights display that is synchronized to the entrance music for the Golden Knights. GG Misa’s Knights light show is played every 30 minutes from 5 to 10 nightly. His light show consists of two songs: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and the entrance music, “Le Castle Vania,” from the movie “John Wick.” The display is located at 730 Bollons Island St. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Reivew-Journal)
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez is Just in Time For Repeal Day And Christmas
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez Is Just In Time For Repeal Day And Christmas. Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal
TV's LGBT superheroes
Green Valley Ranch's Winter's Village
The Mob Museum
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quick Chat With Criss Angel
James D. Gish and Susan Anton rehearse
Susan Anton will be special guest at James D. Gish’s holiday concerts Dec. 7 at Summerlin Library and Dec. 9 at Clark County Library. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Winter Wonderland
"Majestic Holiday Magic" at the Bellagio Conservatory.
Underwater Santa At The Silverton
Santa takes a dive Sunday, December 2, at the Silverton Casino Hotel. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Cowabunga Bay Christmas Town
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which opened in 1991, has exhibits of mechanical dinosaurs and taxidermied animals, along with live snakes, fish and sharks. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Magical Forest Lights
Cirque Du Soleil Performers Team Up For New Show "Kinekt"
Through dance, acrobatics and aerial arts, “Kinekt” tells a story all too familiar to modern families: how to maintain a human connection in the digital age. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden
The Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas
The Pinball Hall of Fame was created by Tim Arnold and opened in 2006. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jump! The Ultimate Dog Show at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas
Trainer Lou “Mack” McCammon guides several rescue dogs through a series of tricks and jumps two shows a day weekends through December at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like